Book Review

Sarah Schmidt’s SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE

Schmidt, Sarah - See What I Have Done - COVER
See What I Have Done
Author: Sarah Schmidt
Format: eBook, courtesy of NetGalley and Grove Atlantic
Start Date: September 13, 2017
End Date: September 17, 2017
Rating: 2 stars


Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done is a fictionalized version of the Lizzie Borden Axe Murders. The title of this book is adapted from the famous song, which is about as much as I know about the murders:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
She gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.
Lizzie Borden got away
For her crime she did not pay.

See What I Have Done is essentially a story about horrible people as we follow the perspectives of several characters, including Lizzie and Emma Borden, the daughters of Andrew (father) and Abby (step-mother) Borden; Bridget, the Irish housekeeper; and the mysterious Benjamin, who was supposedly hired by their Uncle John to teach their father a lesson. None of these characters have any remotely redeeming qualities, though Bridget is perhaps the most sympathetic. The narration occurs on the days before, during, and after the gruesome murders on August 4, 1982 (and, in one instance, on May 6, 1905).

The style of this book was difficult to get into, and I think I’ve left the story with more questions than I had going in.

My biggest problem with this was how the story itself was told. The narrative of alternating points-of-view was not satisfying and added an edge of discord to the overall story, though perhaps that was the point – creating an atmosphere where none of the characters can be fully trusted. But the grating nature of the telling was too much, and it was often difficult to keep the timeline straight as different characters primarily focused on different days (for example, Lizzie and Emma told of August 4th only, and Bridget and Benjamin told of both August 3rd and 4th. Even when the characters were telling of the events of a particular day, rarely did their narrative stay on that particular day; instead, characters were often reminiscing about years-ago events that maybe somewhat had to do with the story but rarely felt to add anything substantial to the overall plot, except maybe for providing a possible motive for each of the characters?

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the utter grossness of this book. The characters were often described eating, and they weren’t dainty about it. The author also liked to describe the (gross) smells of the house, like that of blood, vomit, and mutton soup. I’m sure it was her way of “setting the scene,” but I didn’t really want to be there that much. And what was with the characters’ propensity for tasting blood? At one point, in Lizzie’s section, she said:

I noticed blood on my hands. I licked my fingers, licked them clean.

Sorry, gross.

Unfortunately, this book just didn’t do it for me. From its confusing points-of-view and timeline (which made it feel like a draft rather than a finished story) to the overtly “gross” descriptions, this book fell flat. Granted, there are a lot of people that love it – I seem to be in the minority here – but I personally just couldn’t get into it.

Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for a copy of this eBook in exchange for an honest review.


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